World churches body hails end Ukraine violence accord as 'first step'

(Photo: REUTERS / Vasily Fedosenko)Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stands in an elevator after peace talks on resolving the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, February 12, 2015. The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine have agreed a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, participants at the summit talks said on Feb. 12.

The World Council of Churches has welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire agreement for eastern Ukraine negotiated in Minsk as a "first step towards peace."

"We express our sincere appreciation to all parties to these negotiations for this first step together towards peace, and to the leaders of Germany and France for their facilitation of the negotiations," said Georges Lemopoulos, WCC acting general secretary.

Despite the signing of the accord on Feb. 12, Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels fought fiercely across the east of the country on Friday, Reuters news agency reported.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Russia will face fresh sanctions from the EU if a deal to end the Ukraine war is not fully implemented, the BBC reported.

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The ceasefire was due to come into effect from Feb. 16 under the agreement, which also aims at a removal of the heavy weapons responsible for many of the 5,000 casualties in the conflict that broke nearly one year ago.

In a statement on Feb. 13 the WCC's Lemopoulos said, "The deaths and damage - and the confrontation and distrust within the international community - resulting from the conflict in Ukraine must be brought to an end."

The WCC said that elements of the new ceasefire agreement "offer building blocks for a peaceful and principled resolution of the situation."

A delegation organized by the WCC is expected to visit Ukraine in March, at which time it hopes to see tangible signs of progress towards sustainable peace.

"In the meantime, the WCC urges all parties to the conflict to continue their steps towards peace, to maintain a commitment to dialogue and diplomacy."

The church grouping that represents more than 500 million Christians said it wants the fighting parties to "refrain from further violence that only can cause greater human suffering in Ukraine and deepen the rift in the social and political fabric of the region and in the wider international community."

Elizabeth Ferris, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution blogged on Feb. 12, "I wish there were more than occasional references to the human consequences of this awful conflict - the deaths, the injuries, and the displacement."

She cited figures by Ukraine's Ministry of Social Policy, as of February 2, showing the number of registered internally displaced people (IDPs) is 980,000 and is made up of 61 percent pensioners, 12 percent children, and 4 percent disabled people.

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